FLORENCE — The injury news did not get any better for North Alabama coach Bobby Wallace on Monday.
Senior linebacker Rod Woodson did break a bone in his leg and suffered some ligament damage in Saturday’s 41-0 victory over Shorter. Woodson underwent surgery Tuesday and will miss the remainder of the season.
“I was hoping that maybe it wasn’t as bad as we thought and that Rod had a shot at getting back for the West Alabama game, but he’s out for the season,” Wallace said. “The good thing is that Rod has played enough to have some great games on film for the pro scouts. I feel like Rod can play in the NFL, so hopefully he still has some football ahead of him.”
The news was especially tough for defensive coordinator Chris Willis, who has been Woodson’s position coach since he transferred from Alabama in August of 2010.
“I’m probably having a tougher time with it than anyone, including Rod,” Willis said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with Rod and got to know him and his wife well.
“I’ve been coaching 14 years and I’ve never coached a guy that works as hard at practice as Rod. It’s a huge loss because Rod was probably our best football player.”
Woodson’s injury is the latest blow to a defense that will now be starting one senior. Woodson and senior safety Nick Williams were expected to be the leaders on defense and Williams was lost for the season by a knee injury in the first preseason scrimmage.
Replacing Woodson will not be easy. The senior ranks fifth in the Gulf South Conference with 35 total tackles.
“It hurts us on depth and leadership because Rod brings a lot to the table,” Wallace said. “But just like with the rest of them that have we’ve lost, somebody else has to step up. Our young guys are playing hard and that’s all we can ask from them.”
With Woodson out, freshman Brian Barnett will move into the starting role at the Sam linebacker. Barnett played the Sam spot throughout fall practice before being moved into the starting role at the Will linebacker spot the week before the season opener.
Barnett, a freshman from Birmingham, started the first four games before being replaced by Brion James. Barnett ranks fifth on the team with 22 total tackles.
“Brian showed us more than any of our freshmen in camp,” Willis said. “We probably played him too many reps too quickly because he changed positions and was probably a little lost. Now he’s back where he started and he had a great practice today.”
The defense is coming off its best performance of the season, forcing four turnovers in blanking Shorter. It was the second shutout in the last three games for the Lions (4-1), who play at Texas A&M-Kingsville on Saturday.
“We’ve been really focused since we lost to Harding,” said James. “We’ve been practicing hard and have been able to keep that momentum going. Rod was a big play-maker for us, so we just have to have some other guys step up.”
Wallace said as big of a blow as the loss of Woodson is, the Lions can’t dwell on it.
“You can’t ponder on it when you lose someone,” Wallace said. “Rod is a great kid, a hard worker and I can’t say enough about him, but we have to move on and keep playing.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.
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